Teacher career pathways growing, but not fast enough to tackle state’s teacher shortage

April 11, 2016

Students in Century High's TEACH Academy work with first-graders to gain work experience.

Santa Ana high school senior Maria Vasquez’s favorite part of the week is when she sits down with a class of 1st-graders to help them review vocabulary, understand sentence structure and learn pronunciation.

But Vasquez, part of the teacher academy at Century High, said she learns so much more from the students than they do from her.

“This is the best experience I can have to help me become a teacher – working in a real classroom,” she said.

Vasquez is one of about 70 Century High students in the school’s TEACH Academy, a program that blends academics with hands-on work experience to prepare students for careers as teachers. It’s also an example, educators say, of what other California schools can do to funnel more students into teaching careers at a time districts statewide are facing a shortage in the profession.

The Century High program is one of more than 50 education pathways in California high schools. But these academies are likely to only produce a small fraction of the teachers the state needs going forward. Increased state investments and more partnerships between higher education and high schools are necessary to increase the number of quality programs, educators say.

Century High’s TEACH Academy is part of the Orange County Teacher Pathway Partnership, funded through a $6 million California Career Pathways Trust grant. The partnership is headed by Rancho Santiago Community College District and includes Fullerton College, Cal State Fullerton and area K-12 districts and community groups that work together to create teacher training programs, offer mentoring and provide work experience for high school and college students pursuing teaching careers.

“Right now school districts are worried that they’ll need 20,000 new teachers by August,” said Joan Bissell, director of teacher and public school programs for California State University.

At Century, students enter the academy as sophomores, when they learn skills including parent correspondence, multimedia presentations and beginning lesson planning. As juniors, students are placed into teaching internships at nearby elementary schools four days a week to serve as tutors and aides.

For their senior year, students are paired with graduate students from Cal State Fullerton who help them explore the various types of teaching jobs available. Academy students also take college-level introductory education courses throughout their three years in the program. By the time they graduate high school, academy students have already accrued 15 units of college credit.

“The academy looks to create a better link between school and careers,” said James Oveson, the academy’s program director. “We find that students who are introduced to the teaching profession through hands-on experiences and through a very targeted curriculum go on to have more success in college.”

Century’s Academy students, along with students participating in similar programs at other area high schools who enroll in Fullerton, Santiago Canyon and Santa Ana community colleges, receive dedicated counseling and academic guidance as part of those campuses’ teacher pathway programs. They attend science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, boot camps during the summer to encourage more of them to pursue teaching careers in those fields, where the need is greatest.

“Students will learn in a robust (teacher pathway) program that will lead to high-wage, high-growth, and high-skill occupations that will help fill California’s anticipated shortage of well-prepared teachers,” Janis Perry, lead project specialist at Santiago Canyon College, said when the partnership was launched.

In recent years, education-themed academies have been steadily increasing at high schools across California, fueled by the state’s recent investments in linked learning programs and career technical education as part of an effort to prepare more students for in-demand careers.

Officials estimate the current academies could eventually add 2,000 to 4,000 teachers annually.

Joan Bissell, director of teacher and public school programs for California State University, said that although these 50 academies show the state is moving in the right direction, California is not progressing fast enough.

By comparison, high school programs preparing students for careers in business, engineering, healthcare, manufacturing and information technology each number in the hundreds.

“Right now school districts are worried that they’ll need 20,000 new teachers by August,” she said. “We know this shortage will last a decade. This needs to be a higher priority for all of us.”

Sandy Sanders, executive director of the California Teacher Pathway, an initiative aimed at raising awareness and resources to grow the number of programs in high schools and colleges, said lawmakers had for too long ignored calls for increased investments in teacher training programs.

“Teaching was often not considered as sexy as biotech, engineering and some of these other technology-driven careers,” he said. “But if you just look at the numbers, there is a much higher demand for teachers. Besides, to prepare students for all these different careers, the one thing you’ll need more than anything is good teachers at the ground level.”

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